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When we asked Karen LeFrak which of her many talents (author, composer or philanthropist) is the most fulfilling, she finds it difficult to answer. “Each serves a different purpose: music touches my soul, books touch my mind, and charity, my sense of responsibility,” says this lovely New Yorker.
The New York Philharmonic Principal Brass Quintet and the New York University Percussion Ensemble have performed her music. She has also written scores for ballet and piano, and is the author of several children’s books.
Karen is petite, slim, soft-spoken, and her manners are as delicate as the colors she chooses for her wardrobe. Very modest, pleasant and responsive, she enjoys listening to Bach, Chopin, Schumann and Copland, as she told azureazure.com during our interview.
LeFrak belongs to some of New York’s most prestigious institutions, such as The New York Philharmonic Board of Directors, Women’s Committee for Central Park Conservancy (a group she presided), and Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center Society.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mt. Holyoke College, and later earned a Masters in Music History from Hunter College, where she was inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame. She has also been invited to join the New York State Council for the Arts.
Her family life is perhaps more active than her professional career. She lives with Richard, her husband, and divides her time between residences in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Southampton and Miami. The couple has two sons, James and Harrison, and two grandchildren.
Richard LeFrak, like Karen, was born in New York. He is the son of the late real estate developer Samuel J. LeFrak, whom he replaced as CEO of the family business, LeFrak Organization, one of the most important real estate companies in the United States, with a sizeable portfolio of properties in New York, New Jersey, California and Miami (where they are currently very active after the purchase of the Gansevoort hotel in Miami Beach).
The couple met during a family reunion. Their parents knew each other, and Richard’s father introduced them. “He was 17 years old, and I was 15,” recalls Karen. They have been inseparable ever since.
They make a lovely couple and rarely spend time apart. Karen tries to accompany her husband on business trips whenever possible. She can find her inspiration anywhere: “the place doesn’t really matter to me, what matters is the state of mind. I can write anywhere.”
Brian Reeder choreographed her ballet titled Cake, and Roger Van Fleteren was the choreographer behind Pavlovsk, set to the riveting score written by LeFrak. Both were performed by American Ballet Theater II in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
The piano remains one of the passions of her youth. Her score for Gentle Memories was set to dance by Jiri Bubenicek, and made its debut in 2012. In 2013, her piano composition Bark! In The Park, was choreographed by Chase Brock and performed in New York by the New York Theatre Ballet. Also in 2013, her score for Duet Tous Les Jours, choreographed by Marcel Gomes of American Ballet Theater, premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. It will be performed this spring in New York’s Lincoln Center. Another event planned for this year is the performance of the concert version of Pavlovsk Statue Dance by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Long Yu.
Karen loves New York and admits she is passionate about premiering new works in her beloved hometown. She looks forward to sharing her music with friends, relatives, colleagues and the public. “It is an exciting and stimulating city, where there is always something to do or see.”
She has written three children’s books: Jake the Philharmonic Dog, Jake the Ballet Dog, and Best in Show. And the author is not apologetic about her passion for “man’s best friend”. After the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, Karen brought her dogs to Mt. Sinai Hospital and to New York University Hospital to provide therapy for victims and families of the catastrophic event. She received numerous awards for her selfless efforts.
Karen breeds and trains her poodles with the help of the expert breeder Wendell Sammet, who has more than 69 years of experience in this field. Some of her dogs have received important awards, like the prestigious Westminster Championship. Her poodles are elegant, aristocratic and perfectly polite. She loves this breed for their extraordinary intelligence, for their beauty, and because “when I was small, I had a mini poodle,” she recalls.
In addition to her artistic engagements and professional commitments, Karen is devoted to her family and very attached to her children, who also work in the family business. She finds being a grandmother her most fulfilling endeavor, and wishes her grandchildren will remember her, “as the best grandma in the world.” ■